Farm Life Blog

Farm Life

Welcome to farming

03.21.19

“Welcome to farming” my neighbor’s wife yelled, as she left through our barn door.

It happened yesterday afternoon, when I got a text from a different neighbor that said “Hey, just drove by your place and saw one of your cows down. You might want to check on her.” I looked out the window and saw all four of the girls lying in the pasture. They are sleeping much more these days, as we are less than a month away from everyone calving. Patsy’s head was on the ground. I almost messaged my neighbor back to say “Oh, that’s O.K., that’s just how they look when they pass out.” But for some reason I decided to go outside, put my boots on and walk down to the pasture.

Every once in a while Anthony and I will call out to each other and say “Loretta’s down” or”Junie’s back up.” And we do that mostly because it’s pretty freaky to see a cow laying all the way down with their head flat on the grass. Quite frankly, they look like they’re dead.

I saw Patsy laying down when I was on the way and I yelled out “Patsy – GET UP.” And then I heard her moaning and saw all four of her hooves in the air. I started running and got to her – I saw she had crapped all over the place, she was moaning and her eyes were bulging out. She had basically turtled herself, but because her belly is so round and full of a calf, she couldn’t right herself. I started trying to push her when she was rolling around and that was absolutely ridiculous. She’s at least 1400 pounds. I’m not sure how I thought I could move her, but I had so much adrenaline running through me, I wasn’t thinking I wouldn’t be able to move her. I called Anthony from my cell and told him to meet me in the pasture RIGHT NOW.

He got to the pasture and I called my neighbor Kevin and told him what was going on, I wasn’t sure what to do. He was too far away, but told us to try and get her feet under her by bending her legs at the knees. Anthony started doing it and the other cows finally noticed something was going on. At that same moment, yet ANOTHER neighbor and his wife showed up out of nowhere. My neighbor’s wife yelled to me “Do you have a halter – go and get it!” I started running up to the barn to get it when I heard them yelling “She’s up!” I stopped and turned around and saw Patsy standing up.

Then even more fun began. Junie started kicking her legs in the air and running around. That set everyone else off. Patsy was walking quickly ( I think she was still in a daze after her episode) Loretta was running and Dolly started chasing me. I started running away and she kept chasing me. I was half laughing, half running and looking over my shoulder, expecting her to stop. Then she started chasing my neighbor and his wife. When he stopped to try to calm her down (he and his wife show cattle and own LOTS of cattle and have years and years of experience with cows), I yelled “She’s mean, WATCH OUT!” Then he and his wife started running and hopped up on a gate to get out of Dolly’s way.

Dolly, when she was much kinder and gentler

I’m pretty sure I was just swearing a lot at this point, and my neighbor’s wife (I keep calling her that because I don’t remember her name) yelled out “Welcome to farming!”

That really struck a nerve with me. Welcome to farming? We’ve been living on this farm for 4 years. We’ve had calves born, we’ve raised bees and extracted our own honey and have successfully grown and sold cut flowers for the past two years, amongst other things. But she IS RIGHT. Sometimes – lots of times – we don’t have a clue as to what we are doing. We rely on our neighbors and friends to help us with so much. And we are soft when it comes to our animals.

Patsy as a new Mom

We are just poseurs, “hobby farmers”, amateurs and ridiculously green at this farming thing and yesterday was a tiny reminder of that. This is the reason why, when people ask the size of our property, I say “Oh, just 5 acres”. Because we AREN’T real farmers. We don’t own hundreds of acres, we only have 2 cows and 2 heifers. We don’t grow crops, don’t own tractors and don’t even have a damn rooster crowing at 4 in the morning. But we are in love with this farm life and we are determined to learn. To try and figure out how to do what we are doing, at whatever scale that may be.

The greatest reminder in all of this? How unbelievably generous and caring our neighbors are. If not for them, who knows how long Patsy would have laid in the field. I’m still so worried about these girls – and I will admit to waking up at 2 a.m. this morning and walking out to the pasture to make sure everyone was still alive. AND looking outside every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. on. AND contemplating not leaving the house today for fear of coming back and finding one of them stuck on their sides again, or something even worse. But I’m trying to fake being a farmer and letting go, figuring what will be, will be. And if I’m here and I can intervene, then so be it. If I can’t, then that’s just what is going to happen.

Welcome to (our version of) farming.

Farm Life

Four years in Wisconsin

11.26.18

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of our fourth year of living in Wisconsin. (revisit year one here)  We are still just as much, if not more, in love with Wisconsin, our farm and all of the fabulous people we’ve met. I figured this anniversary would be a great time for us to get caught up on what’s going on around these parts. 

When we last left off, we were just kicking off our second season selling at Farmer’s Markets.

This year we doubled the size of our flower growing area and spent more time trying to figure everything out. Having planted a seed in the ground for the first time EVER three years ago, there is still so much to learn. And THAT is why we moved here. We are challenged every single day with learning something new, meeting someone new, or trying something new. It keeps us from becoming stagnant and Anthony and I have both learned that we need things like that in order to stay sane and happy. On to the updates. 

New additions: We recently adopted 3 barn cats. If you are a fan of our Instagram stories, you may have already met them. We found a woman who is part of a foundation that re-homes feral cats. She has them vaccinated, spayed and neutered and does her part to keep the feral cat population down.  We have had them for about a month and are keeping them in our calf barn until they get acclimated and comfortable on our farm. They are very sweet and they actually like humans, and we’ve had fun interacting with some new animals at our place. I’m really chomping at the bit to get more animals here – miniature donkeys, chickens, goats and rabbits are still on my list. But until I can figure out how to add more time to my day or how to balance things better, those animals are going to have to wait.

Dusty

Walter

Foxy Brown

Chicken House: We have gotten some help on a few more things that need to be finished in the chicken house. This project has stalled over and over and over again because Anthony and I cannot agree on anything – from what to do or how to do it. So then, nothing happens. There are now only a handful of things to be completed in order for us to get chickens. We need to put some poles in the ground around the run and attach netting so that it is completely covered. Anthony is in the process of building a shade structure to go inside the run. After those two things are finished, we’ve only got to get some waterers and feeders, put shavings on the ground inside and we should be good to go. I’m going to throw a party when the chicken house is finished. Plus, it’s so nice inside, I think the party can be held in the chicken house itself.

Bees: The bees are packed up and insulated for the season. It was a weird season for our bees – lots of rain, failing queens and the honey flow was quite late. We only got about 95 pounds of honey this year, which is a bit less than what we got last year. We are going to add some additional windbreaks to the sides this year to help with the terrible winds that come from all directions. Three out of the five hives we now have looked like they had bee activity when we wrapped them up. There might have been some shrew activity in the front of a couple of them, and I’m not feeling confident in all of the hives surviving the winter. I traveled a lot this fall, and some of the things that should have been done to the hives didn’t get done.. All we can do now is hope for the best and wait it out. AND learn from our mistakes this year and adjust next year.

Flowers: The flowers were incredible this year. Again, it was a weird year weather-wise – it warmed up early, then cooled down. We went from not having any rain for a month to rain almost every day for six weeks. I had a few flower growing failures and the bug pressure was unbelievable. I’m so afraid of spraying anything – I don’t want to hurt any of the pollinators and bring toxic things to our farm, but I also cannot keep losing everything I’ve invested so much time and money into. It’s not even tolerable to walk out near anything that’s growing on our farm – the corn borer beetles are EVERYWHERE.

Farmer’s Market: We loved everything about participating in both the Boxed and Burlap and Fontana Farmer’s Markets this year. Being a market vendor is no joke – I was harvesting on Mondays and Wednesdays, prepping and arranging everything on Thursdays, selling on Fridays; cutting and arranging more on Friday afternoons if necessary for Saturday’s market. Then selling on Saturdays, cleaning everything up on Sundays and starting over again on Monday. And that was just the flowers – that doesn’t include everything else going on at the farm. We eventually stopped selling in Fontana on Saturday’s so we could get a better handle on things and keep up with everything else. Our end goal is to be able to sell from our farm, instead of taking everything to market. That way we can enjoy our farm while other people come to visit and enjoy it too.

Loretta, enjoying the farm

Cow and heifers: All four of our girls were artificially inseminated in July AND all four of them were settled on the first try – which means we are pretty lucky. Our vet told us that he usually experiences about a 70% success rate, so 100% was a huge win in our books. We had them preg checked about 30 days after insemination just in case some of them did not get pregnant, so we could quickly inseminate again and keep all of them calving around the same time. The vet said he wanted to check all four of them again in about six weeks to make sure that they stayed pregnant. At that point in their pregnancy, ultrasound can be used to check pregnancy and reveal the gender of the calves. This was also exciting for us because then we would know and prepare for which babies would be raised for beef, and which ones would be kept for our herd. Dolly and Patsy are having bull calves, Loretta and June are having heifers. Translation – Dolly and Patsy’s male calves will be raised for beef (and no, they won’t be named) and Loretta and June’s female calves will stay on the farm and join our herd.

Greatest Dog of All Time – or GDOAT: Gigi turned eleven years old in November. She has definitely slowed down a bit, but still has lots of puppy left in her. She is our constant companion in most everything we do here, except when it comes to other animals. She wants to be the only one for us – which translates as the only animal that gets any attention from anyone.

Anthony and I basking in some much-needed lake time with friends

Add in a ton of visitors, Nellie’s Barn Sale, some time out on the lake, watercolor painting, new fencing and random interior design projects and you’ve got our summer and fall all wrapped up.

This winter will not only be a time for us to rest and reflect, but also a time for planning the future of our farm. We are both ready to take the next step in transforming Lucky Break into a destination farm and further defining what that means to us. Our friend Rick has warned us, more than a few times, to dream carefully in the Winter. It’s easy (especially for me) to dream up a multitude of things to take on as soon as the weather breaks in the Spring. I’m going to do my best to be realistic and not turn our farm into some sort of forced labor camp. I can’t wait to see what happens as we work our way up to year number 5.

Farm Life

Summatime

06.23.18

Are you as excited as we are that it’s finally Summer? We are in the thick of it and couldn’t be happier to be back outside all day and all night. We have had a TON of rain, but it hasn’t been terribly downpour-like, so we have been out in it, for the most part. Our gardens, girls and flowers are loving the rain, but we are definitely ready for some sunshine.

No joke, everyone that visits pitches in. Mom had great company while she was planting

COWS: The girls will be artificially inseminated in a few weeks. Not too long ago, our friend Glenn (Patsy and Loretta’s original Dad) came to visit and while we were out in the pasture visiting the girls, we watched June nursing. I was horrified and once again reminded that I’m not the best farmer. We should have kept them separated MUCH longer, but I, once again, humanized them and thought they missed each other and wanted to be back together. Stupid mistake, but now we know and will adjust in the future. In the meantime, Junie is wearing the Quiet Wean again (or as I started calling it, the Ring of Shame) and we will separate them once they are all inseminated.

FLOWERS: Our bulbs and lilacs and peonies have come and gone and now we wait for everything else to grow up and start blooming.

This year we have more than doubled our growing plots and are growing over 70 different kinds of flowers and greenery.

One of our goals with the flowers is to have a Pick-Your-Own flower farm, so right now I’m testing and trying what varieties work best for us, as well as what you guys want to see growing. As stupid as this sounds, I never really accounted for the amount of extra time I would have to devote to growing, planting and now weeding and harvesting double the amount of flowers.

Planting, planting and more planting

I was really only thinking “I NEED MORE FLOWERS” and went a little bit overboard. Our farm is always a work in progress, and this is an area where we are still trying to figure out balance. (Really, it’s my issue, but WE sounds so much better)

The supervisor is always by my side

BEES: We have had a few small challenges this season so far with the bees, but now it looks like everyone is on track, kind of. Two of our hives are slow to grow and look a bit weak and we have had to replace two Queens. Our other two hives are thriving, and everyone has at least one super on top. BUT, the most exciting news thus far was when we captured a swarm a little over a week ago.

Our neighbor Kevin called Anthony and said we might want to come and get our bees that were in his tree. We took a quick look at our hives, and it looked like business as usual – lots of bees flying in and out of them, so we didn’t think it was any of ours. We quickly drove over to take a look. It was HUGE! We ran back home, picked up our suits, a ladder and a big box because we didn’t think it would fit in a nuc box, nor were any of our hive bodies ready to put bees in them.  We called Rick, our mentor, to ask his advice on what we should do, but he didn’t answer.

It was a hilarious site, the two of us. I ran into the office and pulled out two of my beekeeping books and looked up “capturing a swarm”. While Anthony was gathering our supplies, I was following along behind him, reading out loud from Beekeeping for Dummies.

Anthony cut the branch off of the evergreen tree the swarm had landed in and we put the entire branch – Anthony estimated it was 5-10 pounds – in the box. We watched as the bees that had fallen off of the branch flew into the box. We taped everything up and drove them home. We got a hive ready for them and put it out next to our other hives. We then opened up all of our hives just to double-check that they were there and everyone was accounted for. You can imagine how excited we were – free bees???

One of the most interesting things that we read about capturing a swarm is what happens when you try to get it/them into a hive. It was recommended to place a sheet or towel in front of the hive, as a makeshift plank for the bees to walk inside. We did just that and after 2-3 minutes watched in disbelief as they all started marching in, thousands of them, at once. We ended up adding another hive body AND a super for them because the size of the swarm called for it. There were so many, it was the size of at least two of our existing hives combined. The best part was when Anthony told me it felt like he was back in SWAT, going on a call out. This is our life now, and I’m glad he can draw on his SWAT training to swiftly and safely capture a swarm. (please tell me you’re laughing with me right now)

We checked them yesterday and weren’t able to find a Queen nor any brood, but it looks like they are trying to make their own Queen. We will check again soon and if there is no Queen, we may have to add one on our own to keep this hive going. Or, we could split the bees up and add them to our hives that are not thriving.

Anthony made a video compilation of the short videos I posted on Instagram stories. It’s not up to the caliber of Anthony’s feature films, but it somewhat shows the process we went through. Check it out:

CHICKEN HOUSE: In May, my Uncle Walt, Brother and Bestie came up to the farm to put in some serious work on the chicken house. We worked for 4 days straight and got so much accomplished. I’m pretty sure we all thought, at one point or another, it was the most fun we’ve ever had working. We still have work to do, mostly on the run and the outside, but that work has been put on the back burner because we have been concentrating on the flowers and Farmer’s Markets. I’ll break down everything we did and our plans for our chickens in a future post.

Chicken House Crew

EVERYTHING ELSE: Anthony has created a beautiful vegetable garden for us this year. Last year I threw one in, and it was so half-assed and horrible looking. We got beautiful cucumbers, cauliflower and basil, but it was a HOT mess. I really just wanted to start a vegetable garden somehow, some way, so I could learn what to do, what not to do and also to reap the rewards once things actually started growing. My biggest takeaway was that I don’t have time to have a flower farm, cows, bees, a swimming pool AND a garden, so this year I asked Anthony to be in charge of it. He has done an incredible job. It is already producing so much, is always weeded and gets the daily attention it deserves. I’m so glad I tricked him into this task, he is a natural gardener.

Anthony and I are selling at two Farmer’s Markets this year – Friday’s from 8-2 at Boxed and Burlap in Delavan and Saturday’s from 8-12 in Fontana. We love connecting with every single person that visits our booth. It’s fun to share our story and our dreams, and it really seems like people want to know what we are doing and why we ended up in Wisconsin. Also, we had no idea how much we would love meeting the other vendors – Farmer’s Market people are the best kind of people.

Keep Pressing On LLC‘s shirt design for their weekly do-it-yourself silk screen t-shirts

This year is going so much better than last year.  Our swimming pool is not a swamp for the first time since we moved here.  Our new fencing is holding up and the cows haven’t tried to escape. (knock on wood and anything else that can prevent this) Anthony and I are working on the farm full-time, together, and not wanting to kill each other! It’s as if something clicked and we are both on the same page and fully committed to making this hobby farm dream of ours a reality. I’m also trying my best to relax and enjoy things in the midst of all of the work.

There will always be more work than we can handle or ever finish, so I’m really trying to keep some perspective and have fun with it.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Our lovely swamp, when we opened the pool this year

It’s a MIRACLE!!!!!

What are your tricks for slowing down and enjoying the moment amidst all of the work? And what are your summer plans? Any visits to Wisconsin in your near future? (hint, hint)